Fiocruz News Agency
In an article published last week in the scientific journal The Lancet, experts from different countries, such as Brazil, South Africa and the United States, draw attention to the inequities faced in the COVID-19 pandemic with regard to human rights at national and global levels. In an analysis of these inequalities, pointing out differences in access to vaccination and medication, for example, the authors propose alternatives for a new story in the post-pandemic period. They point out paths for recovery, prevention and better coping with possible new health crises, such as different forms of financing, with high-income countries committing to vulnerable populations.
Among the authors of the article entitled “Human rights and the COVID-19 pandemic: a retrospective and prospective analysis”, is the coordinator of the Fiocruz Global Health Center (Cris/ Fiocruz), Paulo Buss. Lawrence O Gostin, Eric A Friedman, Sara Hossain, Joia Mukherjee, Saman Zia-Zarifi, Chelsea Clinton, Umunyana Rugege, Miriam Were and Ames Dhai also signed the article.
The authors point out how the pandemic hit populations unevenly and how the global response was insufficient to reduce these inequalities. According to the group, unequal access to vaccines, treatments, diagnostic and protection tools and technologies directly impacted the numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths; as well as causing unequal social and economic impacts.
In addition to repairing these inequalities, the authors propose new actions for egalitarian global health. In this sense, they make proposals regarding financing, intellectual property, production and distribution of inputs, sharing of information and technology and cooperation. They reinforce that advances in science should be for everyone and that “these instruments of both health justice and pandemic preparedness should be established before the next health emergency strikes”.
Abrogating freedoms and right
In the introduction of the article, the authors highlight how, from the beginning, there was suppression of civil and political rights, “with authorities in Wuhan, China, withholding initial data on the outbreak and information on human-to-human transmission”.
They also highlight how governments' lack of investment in preventing and coping with pandemics may have caused preventable deaths and impeded access to health services. The authors also highlight the social impacts of COVID-19: “Inadequate social protection has pushed tens of millions of people into hunger, homelessness, and poverty, undermining their economic and social rights”. In this regard, they highlight how authoritarian and populist governments do not prioritize science in their decision-making.
Also at the beginning of the pandemic, according to the authors, inequalities in access to vaccines began, despite international agreements signed precisely to guarantee equal access. There was a dispute between countries for production and access to immunizers, protective equipment and diagnostic tools. To overcome these problems, they cite, for example, the creation of mRNA vaccine hubs against COVID-19, such as the one created in South Africa. “We must also strengthen health within the human rights architecture, deepening connections between the two”, write the authors.
Global health security and human rights
Finally, the authors highlight the mistakes made, and look to a future that can still be written: “COVID-19 has created a catastrophic record of how human rights shortcomings undermine pandemic preparedness and response, and how health emergencies undermine human rights and fuel further violations. Equity demands treating health as a global public good and creating new legal instruments grounded in rights and equity. A reimagined, strengthened global health architecture, with human rights as its foundation, would be a fitting monument to the tens of millions who have died and suffered grievously—and would better prepare the world to address climate change, antimicrobial resistance, and other global threats. Furthermore, it would enable a swift, effective response the next time a novel or emerging infection threatens the globe— honoring the dignity of each of us”.